Prior to the Civil War, commerce and travelers from west of Chicago could cross over a float bridge at Chicago Avenue to the northeast side of the city, an area separated from the emerging central business district by the river that served as the commercial lifeline of the burgeoning city. By1914, three different types of movable bridges had spanned the Chicago River at this point, each type representing an important stage in the development of movable bridge technology in Chicago. The 1910 Erie Street Bridge demonstrated the switch from three supporting trusses to two worked well and saved money, materials, and time. Chicago Avenue Bridge, and nearly all other single-deck, double leaf bascules built by the city after 1910, used two trusses to support each leaf Ideally, the front and rear portions of a bascule leaf balanced perfectly around the trunnion, and required only the motive force needed to overcome friction to open and close.1
CHICAGO AVENUE BRIDGE #1
Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1857
THE GORGE IN THE NORTH BRANCH—FEARS OF DISASTER.—The warm rains of Saturday and Sunday, caused a general break up at the North Branch, and a considerable quantity of ice passed into the Lake yesterday; however, an immense gorge of ice, nearly a quarter of mile in length, formed at Chicago Avenue Bridge, from which severe disaster to the vessels moored in that portion of the river was apprehended last evening. The steamer Traveller lies partly in this gorge, and other craft were also in danger. At last accounts no ice was coming down from above, and the river was rapidly falling, the water passing under the gorge so that it is hoped the ice can be moved in such small quantities as ti prevent any very serious damage to the vessels. Should the gorge move in one mass, the disaster must be very serious, and would involve the loss of a large amount of property.
Chicago Avenue Bridge #1
Hall & Co.
CHICAGO AVENUE BRIDGE #2
Chicago Tribune, August 8, 1867.
CHICAGO AVENUE BRIDGE.—The contract for building a bridge over the river at Chicago avenue, was yesterday awarded by the Board of Public Works to Messrs. Fox & Howard.
From History of Chicago, Volume 2, . T. Andreas, 1885
1867—Chicago Avenue, North Branch, wooden braces and iron chords, Fox & Howard, 175 feet, $26,700.
Chicago Avenue Bridge #2
CHICAGO AVENUE BRIDGE #3
Chicago Tribune, November 28, 1871.
—Contracts for the construction of bridges across the branches of the Chicago River were, on yesterday, awarded by the Board of Public Works as follows: Chicago avenue bridge, to Fox & Howard, at $17,850; Rush street bridge, to the Keystone Bridge Company, at $15,000; South Halsted street bridge, to the King Iron Bridge Company, at $15,900.
Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1872.
THE CHICAGO AVENUE BRIDGE, promised by March 1, will not be long in accommodating passengers—that is in regard to lineal feet,—the entire length being 163 feet. How long it will be in point of time nobody appears to know. The centre pier is built on a concrete foundation, is 27 feet in diameter at the base, and 25 feet at the top, rock-lined like the others. The contract was let on Dec. 31 to Fox & Howard, who undertook its construction by March 1, for $20,850.
Bridge Rebuilding Report as of July 1, 1872
Chicago Avenue Bridge #3
Chicago Avenue Bridge #3
Robinson Fire Map
Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1911
Chicago is to have the new bridges planned by the city council when the appropriation ordinance was passed some time ago.
The total vote on the bridge bonds yesterday was 211,751 to 65,080, a majority in favor of the issue of 146,671.
The issue asked for amounts to $4,655,000.
The city contemplates the expenditure of the entire sum in its new bridge program. Twenty-five new bridges are needed. The most important of these and their costs are as follows:
Chicago avenue, $280,000
Indiana street, $250,000
Washington street, $360,000
Thirty-fifth street, $260,000
Ninety-second street, $325,000
Belmont avenue, $90,000
Lake street, was $400,000
Fuller street, $175,000
Blackhawk street, $250,000
U. S. Condemns Old Bridges.
The city council recognized the pressing need for these new bridges when it passed the appropriation ordinance. The federal officials have ordered the removal of several old bridges, contending that they limit navigation.
The bridge bonds will be paid off serially in twenty years, thus insuring that the bridges will be paid for by the persons who use them.
CHICAGO AVENUE BRIDGE #4
The Day Book, Chicago, IL, October 5, 1914
The Chicago av. bridge opened after being in course of construction 3 years. Cost $150,000.2
Chicago Avenue Bridge #4
“Welcome Ward & Co. Chicago Ave. Bridge” Sign
One of the most significant aspects of the new design was the internal rack patented by the city’s Engineer of Bridge Design, Alexander von Babo. Von Babo explained in his patent application that a rack contained internally within the trusses, used in conjunction with a transverse trunnion girder to support the trunnions, allowed space for a larger dimension counterweight of more inexpensive material and permitted placement of the operating machinery and gear trains directly alongside the movable truss. In addition, it “avoided use of unsightly circular racks above the top chords or beneath the bottom chords.
Montgomery Ward Advertisement
September 25, 1927
Chicago Tribune, October 29, 2018
By Mary Wisniewski
The Chicago Avenue bridge over the Chicago River will be closed Thursday and demolished, which promises to cause traffic headaches and detours in a busy area until an interim bridge is in place early next year.
The steel bascule bridge, between Larrabee and Halsted streets, was built at the start of World War I and has survived 14 mayors and 18 presidents. But it has deteriorated, and with only one lane in each direction, the bridge needs to be replaced to handle a growing amount of traffic in the River North area, Chicago Department of Transportation spokeswoman Susan Hofer said.
The new permanent bridge, to be built in 2021, will have two lanes in each direction. The interim bridge will have two eastbound lanes and one westbound lane. The total construction cost is $7 million, Hofer said.
“There are a lot of developers looking at that area,” she said. “We want to make sure that when we design the permanent structure, it will meet the needs we are anticipating rather than what we need at the current time.”
The absence of a bridge over the next few months will create a major inconvenience for local workers and residents. The bridge is next to 600 W. Chicago, which is the home of Groupon and other tech firms. The former Montgomery Ward catalog building houses 7,000 workers.
Detours have been designed for cars and trucks, bikes, pedestrians, and the No. 66 Chicago bus, which sees 15,000 daily riders. A temporary bus-bike lane will be installed on Halsted Street between Chicago Avenue and Division Street in both directions. Parking will be restricted to accommodate the lane, Hofer aid.
“We really think this dedicated lane on Halsted is going to keep speeds up,” CTA spokesman Brian Steele said.
The CTA and CDOT are encouraging the use of public transit during the construction detour.
Both the interim and permanent bridges will be fixed, since that part of the river no longer sees boats that are high enough to require a drawbridge.
1 CHICAGO AVENUE BRIDGE, Chicago Bridges Recording Project, Spanning N. Branch of Chicago River at W. Chicago Ave., HAER No. IL-144, 1999.
2 The first street car crossed the bridge on October 4th, pedestrians on October 12th, and team traffic on October 15th. The pontoon bridge was decommissioned on October 15th as well.